May 23, 2024

Lionel Messi’s contract with Inter Miami will pay him a base salary of $12 million and more than $20.4 million in guaranteed compensation, according to figures released Wednesday by the MLS Players Assn. Both figures are league records, but they account for less than half of what the Argentine World Cup champion is expected to pocket during each of his 2½ seasons in the U.S.

Deals with Adidas and sportswear manufacturer Fanatics, a cut of subscription sales to Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass streaming service and equity in the team are expected to push Messi’s earnings to “between $50 [million] and $60 million per year,” according to Inter Miami owner Jorge Mas. If those estimates prove accurate, that would put Messi’s earnings on par with the most lucrative contracts in the top three U.S. sports leagues. Stephen Curry was the best-paid player in the NBA last season at $48 million, Joe Burrow leads the NFL with a contract valued at $55 million annually, and Justin Verlander tops Major League Baseball at $43.3 million, although those figures don’t include outside compensation as Messi’s does.

Before Messi, Toronto’s Lorenzo Insigne was the best-paid player in MLS history with a base salary of $7.5 million and guaranteed compensation of $15.4 annually. Guaranteed compensation includes the base salary plus all signing and bonus payments annualized over the life of a player’s contract.

Messi’s former Barcelona teammates Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets signed with Miami for considerably less, with Alba getting a base salary of $1 million and guaranteed compensation of $1.25 million while Busquets’ annual earnings are $1.5 million and $1.775 million, respectively.

MLS has seen a steady rise in pay in recent years, especially on the top end. When Zlatan Ibrahimovic signed his one-year deal with the Galaxy in 2019, it was worth $7.2 million, which was a record. Four players are guaranteed more than that this season, including the Galaxy’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, who will make $7.4 million in guaranteed compensation. About 13% of the league’s 925 players had annual guaranteed compensation of at least $1 million, which is also a record.

In addition, the average MLS salary of about $540,000 has grown by more than $120,000 in the last two seasons and almost certainly will increase markedly next season. This winter MLS owners are likely to consider increasing the number of designated players, whose salaries count only partially against the salary cap, from three to four per team while the amount of general and targeted allocation money each team can spend, which was $4.6 combined this season, likely will go up as well.

Hernández, whose contract expires at the end of the year, was the Galaxy’s best-paid player with a base salary of $6 million. Douglas Costa ($3 million), Riqui Puig ($1.65 million), Gastón Brugman ($1.2 million) and Diego Fagúndez ($1 million) also had base salaries of at least $1 million.

Carlos Vela has LAFC’s highest base salary at $3 million in the final season of his contract. In addition to Vela, MLS scoring leader Denis Bouanga ($2.08 million), World Cup teammates Kellyn Acosta ($1.25 million) and Aaron Long ($1.2 million), Ilie Sánchez ($1.2 million) and former Italian national team captain Giorgio Chiellini ($1 million) also have base salaries of at least $1 million.

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